What’s in the Cheese?


I’ve always been a cheese fanatic. It started when I was a kid with sharp cheddar cheese from Wisconsin and the massive blocks of baby Swiss my father used to receive from one of his patients during the holidays. I would gleefully trim off ever-so-thin slices, curl each one into a roll and start nibbling while thoughtfully eyeing where to cut off the next piece.

As many cheese lovers, my taste continues to mature, and now I’m more likely to reach for say, aged Gruyere and goat Gouda. In one of my recent grocery shopping experiences, while I carefully selected organic yogurt and organic milk, I realized that when it came to cheese, I wasn’t so sure of what I was buying. With gourmet cheeses, such as specialty goat cheese or cheese from sheep’s milk of the Basque region, I wasn’t so worried, but what about cow’s milk cheese from the U.S.? Is there a chance that it has come from cows treated with growth hormones?

I was having these thoughts when I came across this article from Grist about the recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an Ohio law regarding the labeling of food produced without growth hormones.

“Earlier this week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the state of Ohio’s ban on labels that identify milk as rBST- or rBGH-free, meaning produced without the use of artificial bovine growth hormone. Consumer and organic food groups were jubilant at the Ohio news, which may have far-reaching repercussions not only for all milk, but for genetically engineered foods.”

Later, the article goes on to say:

Thanks to consumer pressure, approximately 60 percent of milk in the U.S. is rBST-free at this point, labeled or not, according to the Center for Food Safety. However, that leaves an enormous amount of milk still being produced with these hormones, and by extension cheese and most brands of ice cream, except for Ben & Jerry’s.

The bit about ice cream got my attention. Not only do I love cheese, but I also adore ice cream. (You mean, I can’t eat Haagen-Dazs?) It seems that as I’ve been selectively buying organic milk, I may have been eating cheese and ice cream made from non-organic sources. Yikes. (Yet another reason to go D.I.Y. in the kitchen.)

I suppose I should have thought of this earlier, but I guess my love of cheese and ice cream blinded me. If anything, however, it is yet another reminder that companies should not only be allowed to label their food, but should be required to label it. Consumers need to know and have the right to know what they’re eating. I look forward to and am hopeful for the time when the FDA does the right thing in this regard. I just hope it isn’t another decade before we get there.

In the meantime, I’ll be more consciously buying cheese from such locales as the Cowgirl Creamery, certified organic. And ice cream? Looks like I’ll be making it at home.

Image: Jeffrey Coolidge